The Austin Rattler is the first in a series of national races that are Leadville 100 qualifiers and usually attracts a pretty fast crowd. I had two goals for the weekend: move up in my 2014 Leadville start position and qualify for 2015. And while I was fortunate to have my good friend Dan in Austin picking me up and putting me up at their house, flying to a race presents other challenges... what to bring | will my bike survive | will it make it? Just in case, I carried 1 kit, shoes, helmet, glasses, pedals & my garmin all in my carry-on.
I flew out on Wed in time to get to Austin, assemble the bike and get a spin in to loosen the legs - which felt great after sitting on the plane all morning. Thursday we headed out to the venue and got to ride the course (in the rain!) and get my first look at it: it was looking like it was going to be a fast, roller course with no long extended climbs like we experience here in Cali. Fast, stay on top of a big gear, very little places for recovery kind of a course - tailor made for me to have a good day. After riding the course, I set a stretch goal for me of 4:15 and told Dan he could break 5:59... while he was hesitant, I got the two thumbs up on that one. Game on!
Friday we had an opportunity to get a coffee ride in, pick up our race packets, clean & tune the bikes, get the cooler & gear sorted and pack the car for a 5:15 departure on race day (yikes!) to be ready for 8am start.
Race day came early and was pretty chilly, although much better than the alternative, especially in TX! We arrived in complete darkness (man its early!), got our pit set up, got ready and headed out for a good warm-up. I rode the first sections of the course and scoped the lines I wanted during warmup as starting up front is exactly like a crit and you need to be ready! They neutralized the first 1/4 mile or so of the start which almost makes it harder as the surge comes from the back during the rollout. With 500 or so racers on the start line (endurance races start all cats, teams & solos together), starting in the fourth row was going to be a position fight, but well worth it.
Coach Thomas & I planned for me to start up front and drill it on the first lap, ease up on the middle two and then drill it again on the final lap. It was definitely argy-bargy up there at the start - I protected the left side of the trail and held my position well: one guy tried to squeeze through, bounced off me and hit the deck only 10 min into the day! I quickly settled into the second group and we were flying... I was close to pinning it on every uphill section and we were rolling 20-22mph on the flats! I was hoping to get through in about an hour for the first lap to put a little time in the bank and was happy to see 1:00:54 as I came through and headed out for the second lap.
As I settled into the second lap, I made a concerted effort to back off slightly. While I didn't want to give too much away, I knew this was still a pretty long day and I didn't want to blow it. I focused on riding smooth and riding smart: I'd pin it to bridge to a group and sit in where possible - and generally hit the front of the group heading back into the singletrack so I could control my pace. The one time I didn't, there was a little traffic jam on a technical section and I figured the power was better spent getting the position before these spots than getting popped off the bike and all the power to get back to speed and bridge back. I came through on the second lap in 1:04:05, pitted for fresh bottles, wiped the face & glasses, quick chain clean & lube and headed back out.
I glanced down as I headed out on the third lap and realized pitting without a crew is definitely slower - I was quick, but still burned about 2-3 mins. Since it was my only planned pit, I figured I was still in good shape. At this point in the race its really hard to keep track of where everyone is - passing others constantly and occasionally being passed, I'd settled into a quick but reasonable pace trading pulls with two other guys who were riding pretty strong and smooth. It was about 1/2 way through the lap while I was leading us at about 25mph down a short fast hill that bottoms out in a stream bed and shoots back up the other side when I lost my seat pack. The other guys yelled to me that it was my stuff that yard-saled just as I crested the other side. It was a tough decision, but I decided I may really need it and rolled back down the course for my tube, co2 and multi tool. Between turning back, searching, picking up my tube & levers, climbing the hill and finally getting back up to race speed again, I figure it probably burned a good 4-5 min and I would also have to pit again because I couldn't find co2 or the multitool. I rolled through with a disastrous 1:10 - which put me @ 3:15 with one lap to go.
The fourth lap was interesting because now I was deep into lapped traffic: usually in the long races, I'm the one being passed all day long and here I was freighting by people for a change: what a blast! And people were mostly quite cool and supportive when they heard me coming and gave me lots of room, even on the technical sections. About 1/4 of the way into the lap, I spotted the two guys I'd been trading pulls with on Lap 3... I was gaining on them and had already pulled back most of the time I'd given up. Just before I caught them one pulled to the side with a flat and I could see the other had been just sitting on and had slowed considerably. He jumped on my wheel and we traded 2-3 pulls, but he just couldn't hold the pace and I set out on my own. Even though the lapped traffic was cool, there were sections where there just wasn't room to pass - but I gave it everything I had and including the pit to pick up tools, finished the lap in 1:07:16 for a total time of 4:22:17 for 100k - 14.1mph including the downtime. And Dan? Well - he rode a 5:48... absolutely crushed his initial stretch goal of 6:30 and my revised prediction of 5:59. I'd like to think I had a hand in it as he rode hard enough all day that I never got the chance to lap him!
The post race BBQ at these things is always great: great music, great food, nice people and in this case, seats in the shade of the beer tent made for a very chill awards ceremony! I wasn't too far off of my stretch goal of 4:15 and overall I am happy with my effort and output - I moved up 500 riders for Leadville this summer; snagged a 2015 entry in the rolldown (slots handed out as a % of winners); and rode my fastest 100k to date. I went in with a good game plan and as always, had to make slight adjustments on the fly - but I didn't let anything get me down and I rode the best I could. Guess I'll just have to go back next year... maybe target sub 4 hours?